Career Tune Up

Originally published as Transferring Your Skills at ArtsHub.

Think your music degree is only useful for performance?  Think again.  Tune your resume for success in the wider world and manage your money with savvy financial planning.

With exams over and the long summer stretching ahead, many musicians are seeking flexible work to supplement the seasonal low in gig and teaching income.  A hot topic of conversation in my recent workshops has been how musicians can demonstrate the transferability of their skills when applying for non-music jobs.  This is equally relevant for musicians wishing to career transition for economic or personal necessity.

Too often we are apologetic about being trained musicians, and convince ourselves or are convinced by others that our creative background is a disadvantage in the working world.  This couldn’t be further from the truth according to Dr Clare Harding, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Accelerator Program who firmly believes that “liberal arts graduates, like musicians, are the next big talent pool”.  Dr Harding is an English literature graduate, who brings a diverse skill set to her role as Director of this world class entrepreneurship incubator program. 

Music education is an exercise in developing listening skills, effective team work and collaboration, presentation and tremendous self-discipline.  The greatest gift of our creative process is grit and determination and it turns out that all these skills and attributes are shared between great musicians and successful entrepreneurs.

This may explain why so many accomplished entrepreneurs like Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple, and Roger McNamee, founder of Silver Lake Partners and Elevation Partners are also active performing musicians.

Writing non-music resumes for musicians

To clarify the difference between a bio and a resume, a bio is a short written statement of you as a performer.  It should be a unique account of who you are, what you do, why it matters and why others should care.  Resumes are a longer format document that comprehensively list your experience and education.

Start by writing a meta list that includes anything and everything about yourself, your work experience and your interests.   If you haven’t been keeping track of this information, this will give you a reason to start. Don’t worry about structure or writing sentences, just make your list as complete as possible and save it electronically.

See what similar items can be grouped together, you might realise that a lot of your work or voluntary experience is connected with teaching or educating, that’s a great theme that can be tailored to opportunities outside music.  Or you might see leadership skills from managing community or student ensembles, or marketing experience from coordinating the social media for similar groups.  Any type of hospitality work means customer service, communication and teamwork skills, and these abilities could be listed as selection criteria for almost any job opportunity. Start your draft using the following format. 


Two sentences that help the reader understand who you are, the skill set you offer or an area of personal interest.  Here is a fictional musician, Tara Smith, who has worked in hospitality, been a volunteer for her student association, a community ensemble and the childrens’ hospital.

"Tara Smith is a musician with a broad skill set including social media management, customer service and orchestral administration.  She has a keen interest in community service and has been a volunteer musician for the Mater Children’s Hospital for over four years."


What, Where and When

Work History

Keep it simple with dates, listing the most recent first and work backwards, job description and employer.  This should not be an exhaustive list of duties.   


What and When


List your work or voluntary related accomplishments, here’s our fictional musician Tara Smith again.

"Appointed Shift Manager by Hoban Catering after two months of employment as an acknowledgement of outstanding customer service, reliability and responsibility.

Appointed Assistant Front End Manager by Woolworths Ashgrove as an acknowledgement of outstanding staff management, customer service and reliability.

Created a social media strategy for the Queensland Conservatorium Student Association which involved the creation and management of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube accounts. 

Generated regular content for all accounts and managed the Facebook account from creation to 500 subscribers. 

Managed over 35 musicians across the rehearsal and performance program of the Queensland Wind Orchestra.  This involved personnel management for 18 rehearsals and 3 performances in 2014"

Skill Set

List specific expertise that is demonstrable through your work or voluntary experience such as customer service, cash handling, personnel management or social media management.  List personal attributes such as creative problem solving, team work and resilience as these values are attractive to employers.

Community Service

List dates, position description and organisation.


Having asked referees in advance, list their name, job title, employer, email address and phone number. 

Once you have completed a draft, share it with your colleagues and ask for their constructive criticism. It is typical to work through a number of drafts and remember that you will continually update your resume as your life and career progresses, so it’s never a finished document.

Savvy Financial Planning

A portfolio career in the creative industries means that your income will be variable and at times, unpredictable.  Income will come from a wide range of sources including your self-created performances, contract gigs, private teaching and non-music work.  Good financial planning will smooth out the bumps, achieve life goals and create a retirement fund.

It’s never too late to take ownership of your finances so make the time to do a self-audit using one of the many free online tools such as These tools are versatile enough to help anyone’s money make sense without much effort, there’s no wrong way to use them and they automatically sync across all your devices so you’re always up to date. 

Establish good accounting habits by using these tools to create a budget to manage your daily and weekly spending, pay off any debt, build an accessible cash reserve and contribute towards your retirement.  Mindful thinking about your spending and its impact on your financial plans will make a huge difference.  Ditching that daily $3.50 latte could leave nearly $1,000 in your pocket across the year, that’s almost an economy return ticket to London. 

Seek professional financial advice on tax issues and managing debt, the small initial outlay of a consultation will save you money, time and stress in the long run.

The solution to financial security in an unstable work environment is not earning more money. Creating an achievable balance between earning, spending and saving, then sticking to your plan is the answer.

Not many of us are likely to start the next Microsoft, but we can do a better job at positioning our skill set to create employment success in other industries.  This can provide a solid financial basis to support our music making, or support the shift away from a music career.